9 Million Words With Dave Grohl
The (very nearly) unexpurgated Dave Grohl transcript from November's Foo Fighters cover story. Everything you ever wanted to know about the 'Foo but were afraid to ask
The (very nearly) unexpurgated Dave Grohl transcript from November’s Foo Fighters cover story. Everything you ever wanted to know about the ‘Foo but were afraid to ask
Grohl: I was just down in Japan with the Queens of the Stone Age guys, and I had a day off, so I did a bunch of press for the Foo Fighters record. Japan is a great place to start talking about your album, because for some reason, probably because the translation is such a challenge for them, they get so into lyrics. They start piecing your lyrics and getting really deep and sort of personal with you. They start asking things like, “Okay, well, with a lyric like ‘Done, done, on to the next one,’ that seems to be a recurring theme in your life, whether it’s with your relationships, or band members. I was like, “Jesus Christ, you’re Japanese, how do you know that?”
Do you ever talk about it with them? Because that’s kind of a recurring theme in Foo profiles–you never really talk about thelyrics that deeply.
Yeah. Lyrics are strange for me. By the time the Foo Fighters started making records, there was so much attention paid to thelyrics, because people wanted to hear me sing about Nirvana. Really, they wanted to hear me sing about Kurt, and sing about Kurtdying and how I felt, and they just assumed that that’s what I would do or should do. And I purposefully stayed away from anythingthat was too meaningful, you know? It’s the kind of thing where you’re basically writing in a journal or a diary, and, fuck, youdon’t want anyone to read your diary! But this album, I’m actually proud of the lyrics. I’ve opened up more than I ever have. Itjust comes with growing older, and feeling more confident and feeling more developed and mature as a person. When you’re not payingattention to what you’re writing, and you’re not paying attention to what you’re doing, it’s sometimes the most revealing, becausewhen you’re done, you look at these 11 songs and you’re like, “oh my God”–like, that’s where my head was at in that 2 1/2 monthperiod. And it paints a pretty clear picture. So I guess I’m more willing to talk about it now, but before I definitely wasn’t. Thistime, I just thought, fuck it. I got nothin’ to lose and a lot to say.
Somebody asked you a long time ago, in an interview, what would happen if Taylor were to quit the band. And you said thatwould be the end of the band.
Were you at that point, where you were thinking about it?
About breaking up the band?
Or where the band was thinking about it…
I don’t know. We had joked about it. There were times where we’d get on each other’s nerves, and we’d say, “okay, do we break upnow, or do we wait until the journalist leaves?” But you really have to consider band relationships to be like any otherrelationship, whether it’s a love relationship or just a friendship. If they’re really strong relationships, you can say somethinglike “Fuck you!” and it’s okay. And I think that’s the true test of how strong a relationship is. Not that you necessarily want toget to that point. But there were times when, yeah, sure–I mean, for me, too, it’s this feeling of being blessed, but at thesame time, it’s like a curse, y’know? I feel so lucky that I’m still making music, and that people are paying attention to whatI’m doing, but at the same time, I’m like, Jesus Christ, when am I going to get on with my life? I don’t want to be 45 years old,bouncing around the Bowery Ballroom, playing “Learn to Fly” or what-the-fuck-ever…
I wanted to ask you about that, because you’ve also said that you wouldn’t be doing this when you’re 33. You’re 32 now.
Well, I’ve got another eight months. [laughs]. I actually pulled that number out of my ass, too.
You’ve been in bands since you were twelve, right? Like–what else would you do?
I can think of a thousand things that I’d like to do. Obviously, I love music so much that I always want it to be a part ofmy life. But about two years ago, I decided that I wanted to open a school of music in Washington, D.C. The music programs in mostpublic schools aren’t adequate, the funding’s not there, nobody gives a shit about it. And in a city like Washington, D.C., kids needsomething to do, rather than shoot each other and sell drugs. So why not open something like a community center, where kids can goand listen to a huge library of music, and learn, and experience other kinds of music they’ve never experienced before. And at thesame time give instruction, at the same time have seminars and performances, and teach kids everything from how to play yourinstrument to how to fix your van when it breaks down, to how you book your own tour, to how to fuckin’ tear your guitar apart andput it back together again. It’s not like anybody else is gonna do it.
Have you done anything in that direction?
I’ve sorta thought about it. I’ve talked to people about initiating some kind of a foundation, so you can raise enough money todo something like that. We’ve sort of looked at some abandoned schools in the District that may be available. But it’s just–theworkings of a rock band seem to be surrounded by things that aren’t conducive to anything like [building a school]. You’ve gottouring and you’ve got promotion, and you’ve got things that don’t have much to do with the creative process, or making music.It’s basically just selling music. And that gets a little tiresome after a while. I had this conversation with the people atour record company. We were talking about renegotiating our contract, and I said, man, I’ll make records for you guys for the rest ofmy life, if I can do it whenever I want. I don’t want to feel like I’m stuck in this two-year cycle for the rest of my life. Because,fuck–you people get to go home and take a shower in the same shower every night, you know what it’s like to have the samemattress every night, you get to see your families and have children and do all of the things that human beings are programmed to do.
So you kind of want to get that stuff straightened out, before you start building these edifices and being,like, a citizen…
[laughs] Yeah. But at the same time, it’s so strange, because if the opportunity is there, it seems stupid to not takeadvantage of it. Like, “wow, I can make another record? I can go play shows?” It seems like things are still going well for theband, and like I’d better take advantage of it, while I’m young. The band’s never had this “world domination” attitude. It alwaysseems like we do what we do because we love to do it. We just do it because we dig it. It’s, like, hard to stop, you know?I mean, I love this record more than anything we’ve ever done. We’re a better live band than we’ve ever been. And you go out andplay shows, and it’s like, holy shit, you hear sixty thousand people singing “My Hero”? You’re like, oh my God, that’s amazing,fuck, I wanna do that tomorrow.
The band’s been around for eight years now– do you feel like you’re drawing a different crowd these days, an older crowd?
The target demographic. [laughs]. I think that we draw a generally more–mature audience. Not older. There’salways been this general rock aesthetic that the band has had. It attracts people with mustaches. People with half-shirts.Strippers. And at the same time, you’ve got people who dig Dashboard Confessional. It seems like our band’s sound is sogeneral that it applies to all of those people. I don’t think we’ve ever belonged to one particular genre of music. Iremember on our first tour, either our first or second tour, we were touring with Shudder to Think, and we started doing”Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin'” by Journey. And Craig [Wedren] from Shudder to Think would come up and sing it–exactly likefuckin’ Steve Perry. It was so killer. And you’d look at some of these kids in the crowd, with frowns on their faces, like “Thisnew Foo Fighters song sucks shit.” But then there’d be the one dude with the mullet and the mustache in the back goin'”Yesss! They understand me!“
You’re pretty much–of the rough kinda alt-rock moment, you’re one of the only bands still out there doing it at the same level.
I don’t know what it is that makes music so disposable. Or what makes people adhere to certain bands. I guess, in a way, our bandactually represents something, which I didn’t really consider until a few years ago. Like I said, I always had that I-don’t-give-a-fuckattitude and didn’t really think it meant much to anybody.
Is that a product of insecurity?
Well, it’s definitely a defense mechanism [laughs]. If you look at it from my point of view, I was in this band thatpeople considered so important, and that people thought really made a difference, and touched so many people’s lives, and changedthe direction of [mocking] popular culture. That’s not necessarily how I look at it, but a lot of people think about it that way.So, to imagine that happening twice in your life? It doesn’t make sense. The Beatles were fucking great. But Wings didn’t change theworld. They had great music and great songs, but Jesus Christ, y’know. [pauses]. I can’t believe I just made that comparison.That’s so fucking, horribly pretentious…
“Grohl compares his current band to Paul McCartney’s Wings…”
[laughing] No, no, strike that! But no, you have to take that into consideration. And also, being the drummer, and steppingout to being a vocalist/guitar player/songwriter, you don’t expect much. You’re just having a good time. So for the longest time, Ijust thought, “hey, we make albums and go out and play shows and people dig it, and that’s great.” And then after a while you startto realize, “okay, I’m the oldest person at this awards ceremony. I’m the oldest person on this bill.” And people come up to me–peoplefrom the headlining band–will come up to me and say, “you guys were my first concert.” And it’s a trip. I don’t know, it’s strange.It’s hard to explain. But in a way, it seemed like it made sense. I never expected this band to be the biggest band in the world orthe most important band in the world. But it satisfies something, and that’s something I’m pretty proud of. Whether it’s just atestament to longevity, which–eight years isn’t…
It’s kinda bizarre that that’s considered longevity now…
It’s weird, because you guys never did the “difficult” Foo Fighters record. Which is almost like a career move that people feellike they have to make, these days–you guys never did, like, the second record that’s hard to get into…
The most important thing with our music is that it seems real, that it seems honest and not contrived. I don’t think anything we’veever done has been contrived. And if it ever felt like it was going in that direction, we would stop. And I feel like we’re free to dowhatever we want to do, but you never want to stray too far from the band, you don’t want to go too far from what you’re all about. It’sgood to sort of expand on things, but to go overboard and take an entirely new direction. We can make moves here and there, but once youstart straying, when you lose the plot, you just know you’ve lost the plot. There were songs that we were recording on the first roundof the record, where we’d have an instrumental and I’d go in to sing it, and I’d get halfway through the song and scrap the wholefucking song, something we’d spent a week on, and I’d just go, “no, wrong, that’s not fuckin’ right.”
It’s interesting that you have that self-editing ability, because a lot of bands–a lot of good bands–don’t, really. They’llbe like, well, we went in the studio and this happened so we’re gonna put it out.
Yeah, and albums are really an important thing, especially if you only make them once every two years. If you’re lucky, youget to make ten of ‘em in your lifetime. So you don’t want there to be any filler, you want everything to be as good as possible.Not necessarily in the playing or the sound, but in the quality of your effort. Yeah, there’s a lot of shit out there. It’s so funny,what people get away with these days. There’s a lot of music that I love, but there’s even more music that I can’t stand. I just feellike people are writing cat-food commercials and putting them on the radio. It’s so funny, because nowadays, music has become alegitimate career decision. And when I was 18, it was just a way to get out of working at a fuckin’ furniture warehouse. Youcould go on tour and get a seven-dollar-a-day per diem. Nowadays, it’s like, okay, I’ve graduated high school, I can do one ofthree things. I can go to college, or I can audition to be on the Real World, or I can go start a band and get a record deal andmaybe make a video and go on MTV and go on a tour and then go back to college.
You mentioned people coming up to you on the street to say, hey, you’re Dave from the Foo Fighters. Do people come up to youwanting to talk about Nirvana?
Sometimes.There are times, on tour, where people will ask questions or wanna know what it was like in 1991, or if the boxset will ever come out, or how’s the court case going. I think a lot of people are afraid to ask me about it, just becauseof obvious reasons, the demise of the band, or just feeling intimidated, not knowing what to say. Sometimes people are afraid toask about it. Sometimes when I do interviews, people will ask me questions about Nirvana, and they don’t say the word Nirvana.They use the term “previous band.” So they’ll say, “Well, in your previous band…” It’s funny to me, because–I don’tconsider it a curse. It’s not something I dislike talking about. There are things I’d prefer to keep personal, to keep to myself,but, I mean, shit, you can’t deny it. It was such a huge part of my life. There’s not one day that goes by that I don’t think aboutit. Every day I think about it, just like every day you think about your family, or whatever, it’s just a big part of your life.When the Foo Fighters first started doing interviews, we didn’t do interviews for a long time, because we knew what people wantedto talk about. And so we tried to avoid it as much as possible. It’s just a matter of how people go about it. And sometimes I’lljust shut off and say, “well, next question.” And sometimes I feel absolutely comfortable talking about it. Because I don’t lookback on that whole experience like it was terrible. Most people do–a lot of people think of Nirvana as this sad, brooding,depressive experience. But I don’t. I have a lot of great memories. And at the same time, I’ve forgotten so much, just because it wasso insane and it happened in such a short period of time. I mean, fuck, I joined the band in September of 1990, and by April of’94 it was done. It’s like, Jesus–try to imagine everything that happened to you during college. You can’t remembereverything, it just happens so quickly.
Do you feel like you’ve processed it yet? Or do you still feel like there’s more left from that experience to figure outand think about?
Well, there’s still times where I read lyrics and all of a sudden I understand them. Like, “oh, that’s what the fuck [Kurt] wastalking about. I had no idea.” Or there are times where I remember something ridiculous that makes me laugh my ass off, orsomething that makes me really sad. You never get over it. And it’s not the kind of thing that you wanna get over. It stays withyou for the rest of your life. You’re just always kinda dealing with it.
Do you still feel like you’re the new guy?
Oh, always. Totally. Dude, I was like their [sixth] drummer. When I think of Nirvana, I think of Chris and Kurt. I was justthe drummer. And I know that, had they had another drummer, it would have sounded different.
But the band became successful after you joined the band. Do you ever allow yourself to think, like, I played a role in this?This wouldn’t have happened without me?
I just know it would have been different. Shit, it could have been better, maybe, if I hadn’t been in the band. But what happenedin Nirvana, I think happened all because of timing.
Do you mean timing in a musical sense, or a cultural sense?
Both. All of the above. Something happened and it just clicked. And I don’t know exactly what it was. I was surprised by itthen, and I’m still surprised by it. I think we made great music together, and I think we played well as a band, and I thinkeach person played a strong role in it, but I never think that they couldn’t have done it without me.
This year, between the court case and the anniversary of Nevermind, you’ve had to go back and think and talk about that time inyour life a lot more. I imagine everybody wants to know if it’s been hard or difficult to revisit that stuff, but I want to know ifit’s been good, in a way, to talk about it again now.
Well, I’ve had a lot more time to think about it. And it’s easier to revisit it now, because I don’t feel like I’m stuck in it.Fortunately, I have the Foo Fighters to make me feel like life goes on and things keep moving and the ball keeps rolling, and youcan still make use of your time while you’re here. I didn’t feel like my life was over when Nirvana ended. I just didn’t know whatto do with it. So having the Foo Fighters definitely makes things easier. And it makes it a lot easier to talk about Nirvana,because I don’t talk about it every day.
You had a lineup that was solid for the first time. This was the first record that Chris played on, it was the first recordTaylor played on all the way through.
It made a huge difference.
It’s a real band!
Yeah, can you imagine? And the way we did it–when we really did it, not the way we did it in the first four months–everybody wasbasically left to their own devices. What happened, the first four months, we recorded ten songs, five of ‘em we liked. Theother five we thought were okay, but we were basically just making songs that we thought people would want to hear on an album.And our manager, John [Silva], actually made the call. And he called, and he said, “you know what? I like half of it. The otherhalf just sounds like singles to me. And I don’t think that’s what you guys are all about, and it’s not what you guys should do.”And so at that point, that’s when I sort of called it and said, “okay, let’s stop, let’s back away from it, reevaluate.” And I wentout with Queens of the Stone Age, and I had this two-week period that was, like, down time, so I called Taylor and said, “hey, whydon’t you and I go to Virginia and record some shit? I have a couple new ideas.” I went up to his house in Topanga and demoed acouple songs.
You wrote “Low” up there, right?
Yeah. “Low” and “Times Like These.” They were just instrumentals. And I wasn’t really concerned with making the rest of the record.It was just, like, “okay, let’s get back into just fucking around, how about that? Let’s just do it, because I live 25 minutes awayfrom you, and I can come up to your house and we can put something to tape for fun.” So Taylor and I went back to Virginia, and werecorded the basic tracks for everything in like 12 days. All the vocals, all the guitars, and all the drums. Called the guys up,called up Nate and Chris and said, “hey, I think we just re-recorded the whole record here.” And they were, like, “what?” “Yeah,we did three songs yesterday, we’re doing two today, we’re doing three songs tomorrow.” It just came together–there was no time tofuck around, there was no time to overanalyze, it was just all about making music because we were excited to do it and the energy wasreally there. But then I had to go back out with Queens of the Stone Age, and Chris and Nate were left to do all of their recordingon their own. So they were basically left to play the parts that they wanted to play.
Isn’t that weird, to make a record that way?
When you imagine a band making an album, you imagine four guys, in the studio, playing the song once, singing everything live anddoing it. That seems like what you should do. But it doesn’t necessarily work that way. Whatever it takes to make it work, shit,that’s what it takes. In our case, we’ve always had sort of a weird way of making records, whether it’s someone else playing thedrums, or recording it in three different places. But I don’t know. I think the way we made the album was a very healthy way,compared to the way a lot of other records are made these days. It almost seemed like an experiment that worked. But I listento it, and I think it’s a pretty good representation of the band. Warts and all, it’s fuckin’–the band. And that’s what itshould be, I guess.
Do you have a desire to make a record the way we’re talking about, though, where the four of you were in a room together?
We’ve gone in and recorded things basically live. It’s everyone’s dream to be able to do that–I’d love to be able to walk into astudio and do one take to one microphone, like Buddy Holly, like, hey, that’s how great we are. But at the same time, you don’twant to lose control of it, you know? I don’t know, I mean–there are a lot of things about the band, like– I’m not the greatestvocalist in the world, I can’t just fucking step in, one take, and do something that sounds perfect. And sometimes that’s what asong needs, it needs something that sounds good. Other times it doesn’t.
It also sounds like, after what had happened in London, it was therapeutic for Taylor to go and do that. And for you.
Especially with Taylor. He and I have a connection that I’ve never felt with another person in a band. I know that Taylorwill be in my life for the rest of my life. And so for the two of us to connect in the studio like we did was just really great. Ican’t even imagine being in his position and feeling like, “not only did I overcome that obstacle, now I’ve taken this one head-onand fuckin’ done an amazing job.” It was great, too, because Taylor needs to be recognized as one of the best drummers you’ve everseen in your life. I mean, I would have nothing less in my life, especially as a drummer. That plays a huge role in everything tome. Just because–if I’m not having a good show, I want to turn around and watch Taylor, so that I’m entertained. And it happensevery night. He can make me laugh with his drumming. It’s the greatest thing in the world. So not only do I understand him as aperson, we can speak to each other musically. It’s pretty cool.
So let’s talk about this box set situation. Has anything changed since the last time you did a round of interviews about it?
Yeah. I think things are maybe getting better. I think that there’s some movement, and [long pause]. It just becomeswarped. It has become warped.
What do you think the meat of the problem is?
Well, the basis of the conflict and the lawsuit is control. Who has the right to control the legacy of Nirvana? That’s thecrux of the fuckin’ problem. I think that–well, okay, ask me something specific. I’m afraid to get too general. But, goahead, ask me anything, anything you want to ask.
Well, okay, has it–
I can’t answer that. [laughs]
A lot of it has been Chris’ deal, right? He’s been kind of the voice of the band in this thing.
Well, again, you have to understand that Chris is Nirvana. He’s the last surviving member of the original Nirvana.He started Nirvana. I remember him saying at one point, “How many Nirvana shows have you been to? Because I’ve been to everyone of ‘em.” And as ridiculous as it may sound, it was kind of profound. Nirvana was Chris’s idea and project as much as itwas Kurt’s. Kurt was the creative force that drove the band, but Chris was another piece of the foundation. So it only makessense that Chris be very involved. [pause] I’m sidetracked by a lot of stuff. Admittedly so, and also consciously.But it doesn’t bring me down. Nirvana’s not a band anymore. And what we did has been achieved. So I don’t think of it likeit’s slowing down my life, because that part of my life stands as that part of my life, you know? My contribution has beenmade, really. I mean, there are days when I wake up and say “fuck this, I’m gonna fight to my dying breath for what Ibelieve in.” And then there are other days when what I believe in is the music, which is there and will be there forever, andfortunately I was a part of it. But it doesn’t really bring me down.
So doing all this stuff–has it been a psychologically difficult experience, dredging up this stuff, or has it been so removedfrom your experience of the band, that–
Well, okay. Here’s something funny. The night before I had to go up to do my deposition, I was in my room packing, knowing that Ihad to wake up at 5:30 in the morning to go to the airport. It was maybe 11 o’clock at night. My girlfriend’s in bed. And she says,”Oh, that’s funny–[Nick Broomfield’s documentary] Kurt & Courtney is on right now.” And for a moment, I thought, wow–maybethis is supposed to happen. I’ve never seen that movie before. I’ve always avoided it, because I thought it was the biggestload of bullshit. So, for a moment, I thought, okay, I’m gonna watch this movie, and I turned it off within ten minutes. Because Ithought, is this what it’s really become? That there are murder-conspiracy theories and documentaries, and–how fucking ridiculous?And I went up to do the deposition, and was force-fed memories and force-fed a part of my life that I prefer to remember as good.But it doesn’t really bring me down, I mean–I’m not worried about it. People ask me what’s going on with the lawsuit, and I tellthem “Don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of it. Next question.” And that’s kinda the way I feel. I mean, however it turns out,my contribution to Nirvana will always remain the same. And that’s what’s important to me, that I can hear a Nirvana song on theradio or see Nirvana footage on television and think that I actually had a part in something that still has its place. So when itcomes to going to court and legal bullshit–whatever. Life could be a lot worse. It’s not worth–well, I don’t want to say it’s notworth losing your head over, but life’s a lot bigger than something like that. At least it is to me. Who’s running the cash register?I don’t give a fuck, because I was the drummer.
It’s interesting, though–I can totally see your point, for not watching that movie, but I think a lot of people might besurprised that you didn’t, given the level of venom that’s been flying around–that you’re not, like, “Fuckin’ Courtney…”
Well, y’know, one of the funny things is that–you have to consider a lot of this shit, like, your high-school bathroom wall.The three of us don’t sit down once a week and talk about how to resolve this issue. If we did, we might come to some conclusions.But as much as Courtney and I dislike each other, the few times that we’ve bumped into each other in person, we’ve kinda laughed athow ridiculous it all is.
When was the last time that happened?
The last time we saw each other was at the Reading Festival a couple years ago, just from the side of the stage, we sort oflooked at each other. We sort of glared at each other. And I just laughed. I just thought, this is so stupid. And as much aswe might have problems with each other, all three of us–and I said this in our deposition–if you were to put the three of us in aroom together, because of the history that we have with each other, it would probably be a lot more civil than you’d imagine.
It’s easy to just go off, on email.
It’s hard to do that to someone’s face. That’s what diaries are meant for, y’know? [pause]. I hope no one ever publishesmine. [laughs]
And that’s the motivation, on both sides.
Yeah. There’s some–questionable motivations here and there. But, I mean–I’ve always been very choosy with my words, when itcomes to this stuff. And yeah, I mean–even going to court in October, that court date falls at a very crucial time for my band.It’s the three weeks leading up to the release of the record. So not only is it affecting my life, but it’s affecting Taylor, Nate andChris’s lives as well. So if there’s something that I can do to make that time more productive, I’ll do it. I mean, we’ve alreadybeen talking about going off on the weekends, flying off and doing shows here and there and coming back. The big joke was that Iwas going to wear a “Countdown to the Foo Fighters Album Release” T-shirt every day in court. “Twelve days until the new Foo Fightersjoint drops! Buy my record, right after this case settles!”
What would you say, if you were to sit down with Courtney?
[laughs] I’m not going to answer that question. Nothing I can say to you.